This month way back in the mists of time in the 1980s, I found myself starting college here in Galway. Sharing the joys of life with a group of lads in a house in Renmore Crescent, by the side of Lough Atalia (found through the pages of the Galway Advertiser ). It was to be the start of the rest of my life; a new beginning, a time when you set aside that which had got you that far, and swapped it for something new.
No longer were you categorised by all that you had been categorised by in your life so far. Now was a chance to study something you really liked, with people you wanted to share your time with, doing things that you all wanted to do. It was a time to recreate yourself if you felt the need; a time to get to know people and to know yourself. I made friends I have kept for life, and learned lessons far beyond the textbooks.
That first morning, as the sun rose over the bay, the song We Built This City was playing on WLS, the pirate radio station of the time. And it got me thinking if any of us ever would contribute to this place we now called home.
And you know, in a way, every one of us did. Every student is a brick in the construction of this town.
For this reason, I feel very sad for this year’s students who have worked hard to get this far but who are now deprived of the same experience I and thousands of others have had. The rites of passage that shaped us in our college years will not be the same. Even for those students from overseas. The Galway and the colleges they experience will be somewhat different from their expectation.
But our students are resourceful and creative and they will remagine how their own rites of passage will play out; Far from being the carefree and feckless students we were, they have thrust upon them the responsibility to behave in a way that will be anathema to established student life. I hope though that this does not inhibit them from creating the memories of camaraderie, of heartbreak, of love and loss that are needed to add steel to their academic learning.
Galway city needs the students and I don’t purely mean in a commercial sense. Galway and its reputation was created by the thoughts of students. What would this place be if Mick Lally and Garry Hynes and Ollie Jennings and Paul Fahy and Marie Mullen and Mike McCormack had not come here in search of bright lights and brighter friends.
So to every student who has registered for a course this autumn, I extend a hearty welcome, an elbow-knock of appreciation for all that you are going to bring to this place.
Ironically, next Monday, I also go back to college to do another Masters in NUI Galway because arragh, I’ll be long enough lying down and life is for learning and living and enjoying. I am fairly sure that my time in college this time around won’t be a tenth as eventful as it was back in the 1980s and I’m sure I’ll shed a tear for missing my old college mates, who have now scattered to the winds, some with us on the far side of the world, some who have departed this life.
So students, thank you for choosing Galway as being the seat of your learning. We hope that your experience here will not be defined by the current situation.
The sun will rise again over Galway City. Maybe a different song will play as you arrive. Let it inspire you to enjoy your time here. Some of us have never left...
Like the Hotel California, you can check out but you can never leave.
Embrace Galway, guys. Never stop learning.